1977 Honda GL1000 Gold Wing
With an experienced team and a lot of data.
With the Gold Wing, Honda basically created a new type of rider. Mechanically, there was no precedent for a flat-four, water-cooled bike with shaft drive and everyday reliability. The Project 371 prototype that was shown at the Cologne Motorcycle Show in 1974 showed the way, and as the Gold Wing was adorned with bodywork, luggage and other accessories, it started to attract people who weren’t mechanically inclined and had not previously considered owning a motorcycle.
According to designer Craig Vetter, whose aftermarket fairing and luggage for the first generation models were basically copied by Honda for later versions of the Gold Wing, this bike attracted “the first group of riders who didn’t have to fill their bags with tools.”
Once the reliability of the Gold Wing was firmly established, riders who were older and typically more conservative riders took to the bikes to see the world. As the four-cylinder, 1000 cc engine was replaced by 1100 cc and 1200 cc fours, and then the flat-six of the 1500 cc and 1800 cc models, the Wing gained a large array of options. These included a reverse gear, cruise control, interlocked brakes, antilock brakes, trip computer, CB radio, CD player, intercom, heated grips, and even GPS.
The aforementioned Vetter eventually sold his company in 1978, and Honda introduced bags and a trunk the following year when the factory in Marysville, Ohio opened. The Ohio plant built Gold Wings until 2012, when production returned to Japan.
The Interstate model offered the first factory fairing in 1980 and by the time the American-built GL1100 was introduced, it was clear that Honda had really opened up a new market and other manufacturers like Harley-Davidson and BMW as well as Honda’s Japanese rivals looked to squeeze their way in.
BMW introduced a four-cylinder K-100LT in 1985, which would evolve into the modern K1200LT, a splendid sport-tourer. The Yamaha Venture and Kawasaki Voyager both debuted in 1983, while the Suzuki Cavalcade came about three years later. None have had the lasting popularity or lengthy production run of the Honda Gold Wing, however.
Honda’s customer base is reflected in the Gold Wing Road Riders Association - which boasts more than 75,000 members – and numerous overseas clubs. Real diehards also belong to the IBA – the Iron Butt Association – whose members think nothing of 1500-mile days and whose flagship event is the 11,000-mile, 11-day Iron Butt Rally.
In its first 40 years, almost a million Honda Gold Wings have found homes. Several of them have circled the globe and plenty of them have racked up mileage that would have done in lesser bikes.
Most Gold Wings are lovingly maintained and built with such care that riders often wear out before the bikes do, and excellent examples can be found sentimentally mothballed in big garages.